Sarah Weinman reviewed The Beggar’s Opera in this month’s Quill and Quire. That review is now online, and here it is, in its entirety:
“By the time he discovered he was dying, Ricardo Ramirez was the inspector in charge of the Havana Major Crimes Unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police.” This isn’t the opening line of Peggy Blair’s debut crime novel – the book begins with young Ricky watching his grandmother die – but the direct, commanding tone of the sentence sets the stage for the impressive police procedural that follows, one that is as much about a detective facing his own dementia-induced demons as a country in the midst of political turmoil.
Ramirez, like his grandmother, suffers from hallucinatory visions, though his are a kaleidoscope of murder victims who won’t disappear until he’s caught their killers. One of those spectres is a boy who was found raped and murdered at the height of Havana’s tourist season. While begging in the street the night before his body was found, the boy was brushed off by Mike Ellis, a vacationing Canadian cop distracted after a fight with his wife that signalled the end of their marriage. Suspicion in the boy’s death quickly falls upon Ellis, who is subjected to a nerve-jangling interrogation at the hands of Ramirez and his subordinates.
Blair keeps the tension high even as she paints a comprehensive, sensitively detailed picture of two strong-willed men with similar professional backgrounds, each resolute in his beliefs about criminal justice and morality, even in the face of political interference and evidence of a deep-seated crime ring at work in the city.
The Beggar’s Opera was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association’s Debut Dagger Award, and it’s easy to see why. Blair writes with confidence in her milieu, showing us a world too often laden with stereotypes and half-truths, all filtered through the perspective of a detective who wants to do the right thing – by himself, or with a bit of help from the spirits that haunt him. Ramirez’s time on earth may be limited by the ticking clock of his dementia, but in the interim, he has more cases to solve, and based on this solid debut, we will be eager to read about them.
Reviewed by Sarah Weinman (from the January 2012 issue)